How the Mozilla developers fixed Firefox’s memory problem.

I use Ubuntu (+lxde+awesomewm) and have always defaulted to Chromium because that was the fastest, sexiest browser when I started. All of the clean defaults of Safari, fast, and $GOOG gets to learn more about me every time I type anything anywhere. Um. Well, it had a sexy reputation.

I installed the following extensions:

  • FlashBlock
  • Youtube options
  • Vimium
  • TabCloud
  • TooManyTabs
  • Lazarus Form Recovery (the only way I know of to prevent losing tumblr posts you were writing during a crash)
  • Mailto:Gmail
  • Minus
  • Personal Blocklist (I like to punish spam sites)
  • Readability
  • PageRank

But at least for me, now, the way I browse and with my OS, Firefox is working beautifully and Chromium starts kicking its life out around 25+ tabs.


Let me postface this by explaining how I use web browsers, and OS’s in general. I load them up with TONS of stuff. Having 9 desktops full of PDF’s and tabs is normal for me.

I usually dedicate 30% of my desktops to work projects (KTimeTracker automatically measures when I’m actually looking at the work desktop in question), 30% to “read later” stuff — a maths desktop, a CS desktop, a statistics desktop — and the remainder to either articles browsing (politics/economics/news of the weird) or a movie I’m going to watch later. I usually have 100-200 tabs open and maybe 10-20 PDF’s or ebooks, as well as whatever terminals, tmux pseudo-ttys, and VT’s I’m running. (Oh, I run a VT for mutt and a VT for TTYtter.)

This adds up to a lot of programs running at once, all taking up RAM. Not good but that’s the way I roll. Open webpages and open PDF’s are my to-do list — just like books from the library sitting in a stack are a to-do list. The greatest OS improvement for me has been finding dphys-swapfile, a program that increases the size of my swapfile whenever I push the boundary. Right now I have 11 GB of swap and growing every few days.

As it was I used chrome://kill, TabCloud / TooManyTabs / Readability → Kindle to reduce Chromium’s memory usage and spent X hours per week closing windows that I wasn’t reeeeellyyy going to get to within the next few days. Found out you can launch chromium from the CLI with chromium-browse —purge-memory-button —process-per-site & to reduce the load from multiple instances of Gmail or Facebook. Then click Shift+Esc or (wrench) > Tools > ... and you get a Purge Memory button which supposedly reduces Chromium’s memory footprint. (There are design concerns that would prevent the developers fro mautomatically “hitting the purge memory button” every few seconds, which you can see in the slides above)

In browser design as in calculus: You can’t optimise for everything at once. Chrome, whilst a slick browser with a lot of nice defaults, optimises for hardware and usage that don’t describe my browsing habits. Now you’ve seen the load I encumber my computer with; Firefox 12 now seems to be the best browser for my usage type. Maybe you can call us “heavy drag” users or “zillion tab” users.


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